Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”
I learned this principle firsthand.
When I started out in ministry, I immediately became conscious of how different I was from everyone in my ministry context.
- I was a Nigerian American in a predominantly caucasian American Church culture
- I was accustomed to worshipping God a little more loudly and expressively than what was happening around me
- I had a little bit of an accent, which made certain words hard to pronounce (making it sometimes hard to communicate my full intent). I also spoke very fast, which didn't help matters much.
- To top it all off, my learned approach to leadership had "African Dictator" written all over it (in a ministry settling where teamwork was often emphasized)
Clearly, being me wasn’t going to work.
So I decided to be not me. I even came up with an awesome nickname for not-me. I called him, “Lucky.”
Lucky was awesome! As Lucky, I at first tried to sound like Miles McPherson in my preaching. Pastor Miles not only knew the Bible, but he made being a pastor look cool. If Lucky needed to be anything, he needed to be cool first!
But at some point, I decided I wanted to have more depth in my ministry, so as Lucky, I decided to start preaching like John MacArthur. Pastor John was an uncompromising man of profound theological depth. Though I was living as not-me during this period, I did grow in my love for, and understanding on how to exegete and exposit the scriptures.
But like my prior experience, I got to a point where being a 70something year old white male preacher was exhausting, so I shot for something radically different.
I tried emulating a 30something white male preacher.
Enter, my Matt Chandler preaching phase. Matt was a combo of Miles and John. He loved God’s word and he didn’t care to be cool, which made him even cooler.
I operated like Matt for a few years, but once again, he didn’t feel like a great fit. (By the way, it’s also around this same time that I decided I no longer wanted to be Lucky. I was maturing in other areas of my life and decided I was now comfortable being, Segun.)
Segun, of course, needed an African American preacher to be like, so, I decided to flavor my life with some of Dr. David Ireland’s persona. This dude had it all! He not only preached God’s word with the profundity of a John MacArthur, but He was spiritually anointed with some of that supernatural awesomeness the Holy Spirit handed out as gifts in the New Testament.
As before, I tried being him for a few seasons…. but inevitably arrived at the same conclusion.
Everyone else has already been taken!
At some point in the midst of my identity crisis, I came across a Biblical narrative that lit a new path to becoming the man God was truly calling me to be. The story is a familiar one to many. It’s the story of David taking down the giant, Goliath.
Here’s the gist: The Israelites and the Philistines are at war. They’ve gathered on opposite ends of the valley of Elah. Rather than an all-out tussle between the two armies, the Philistines send their greatest warrior, Goliath, to challenge any single solider in the Israelite army to a duel. Whoever’s side wins, takes home the spoils of war, and the other army has to become the winner’s slaves.
Goliath, clearly a mammoth of a man, taunts and insults the smaller-sized Israelites, but no one has the courage to step up and fight him.
A few days later, a young shepherd named, David, brings lunch to his brothers in the Israelite infantry. Having been anointed by a prophet as future king in the previous chapter, he’s incensed that Goliath would defy the army of God’s chosen people. After inquiring more about the rewards of victory over Goliath, he’s brought before the king of Israel, Saul.
David wants to go out and fight Goliath, but Saul is not convinced he has any idea what he’s requesting. Then David gives him his resume. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God! The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!”
Safe to say, David was a dude who was self-aware!
He knew who he was, and more importantly, who he wasn’t. I say so because in the next few verses, the king tries to send David off to battle in his own [the king’s] personal armor. David initially straps it all on, sword, helmet, and an exterior armored coat. But. It. Just. Didn’t. Fit.
You know why? Because David wasn’t Saul. David couldn’t be Saul. Saul was already taken!
This still holds true today, doesn't it? We are either busy trying to be someone else, or others are busying themselves trying to conform us into their image.
Saul was unknowingly trying to make David, like him! You see, as far as Saul was concerned, the way you do battle against Goliath is by being like Saul, hence the need for Saul-like-armor. But David knew he wasn’t Saul. David was David and he knew that his life’s narrative would be most epic when he acted like David!
This, my friends, was the very error I had slipped into during those years of trying to be not-me. I was putting on other people’s armor (personality) to engage in a battle (calling) that God had designed to be won only when I WAS BEING ME!
I didn’t understand it at the time. But David did.
Rather than fight as not-David, he takes off Saul’s armor and selects weapons that were uniquely, David. He picks up five smooth stones and tucks them in his pocket; right next to another deadly weapon he was particularly skilled with, the sling. When you think of this weapon, try not to think of it as a forked stick with an elastic catapult stretched between it. Instead, picture a thick leather pouch to which two long cords are attached. Picture an ancient battle weapon.
The fact is, slinging took an extraordinary amount of skill and practice, an art David would have perfected in the process of protecting his father’s sheep. It was a projectile weapon, and in the hands of an experienced person [like David], it was devastatingly deadly. (Picture an MLB pitcher aiming for your head…with a sharp rock!) This was the weapon of choice David rocked at! (Pun intended).
Saul, and pretty much everyone else in both armies were expecting David to fight Goliath in the traditional manner. Hand to hand, sword-to-sword combat. It’s for this reason that Saul tries to arm David with his weapons. It’s also with this expectation in mind that Goliath taunts David saying, “Come over here, and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and wild animals!”
But David has no intention of getting up close and personal with Goliath. That’s what Saul would have done. But that’s not what the moment called for. David’s past tussles with the lions and bears have given him the courage and experience he will need to face Goliath. Combined with a determined faith in God, David audaciously charges at Goliath. Still at a reasonably close distance, he puts his rock into his sling, swings it around and around until it gains enough speed, then launches it right at the giant’s forehead.
Seconds later, Goliath lay dead on the floor. Battle won.
I have no doubt that God’s hand guided that rock right to the head of the giant, [David was a man after God’s own heart who was highly favored by God] but it doesn’t take away from the fact that he engaged in this battle by being uniquely, David.
Though I’ve heard and read this story at least a hundred times, it took on a whole meaning when I read it through the filter of David-being-David. As I pondered its implications, I began to understand that I am most fruitful in God’s calling on my life when I am uniquely being the Holy-Spirit-filled-me God has created me to be.
Those other godly men I was trying to imitate were already taken! Ironically, the reason I was drawn to them was because they were being their unique selves!
The Bible tells us in Ephesians 2:10 that we are God’s handiwork, [God’s written poem] created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared before hand for us to do. The same Bible also tells us that God equipped each of us with natural abilities and talents, a temperament and personality, along with spiritual gifts to accomplish those very tasks He prepared in advance for us.
Trying to be anyone else but you, throws you off course your pre-assigned heavenly mission. The reality is, God is most glorified in your life, and His kingdom advances more rapidly on earth when you are being the Holy-Spirit-filled-you God has destined you to be!
So why in the world would you wanna be anyone else?
Be 100%, authentically, epically, YOU.